City Hall Plays Let’s Make a Deal

by on July 18, 2016

LET'S MAKE A DEAL, Host Monty Hall, 1963-76

Among the best game shows of the 1960’s and 1970’s (and in syndication decades later) was Monty Hall’s Let’s Make a Deal. It worked like this: after a contestant was given a refrigerator, sofa or similar prize, Hall would entice them to give it all up in exchange for a larger treasure hidden behind one of three doors. The fun was watching contestants squirm over whether to take Hall’s offer, and seeing their reaction after the curtain is pulled to reveal whether they made a good deal.

I don’t know if Supervisor Aaron Peskin or his colleagues ever aspired to the Monty Hall role, but the Board of Supervisors is now knee-deep in deal-making. The July 29 deadline for submissions to the November ballot is approaching, and unlike the deals made on a television game show, some life-impacting issues are at stake.

$50 Million for Homeless

The first big deal concerns whether a $150 million sales tax increase will go on the ballot. Since it would annually provide $100 million for transportation and $50 million homeless services, placement on the ballot seems a no-brainer.

But that’s not how it works at San Francisco City Hall these days.

The sales tax is caught up in the battle to keep Mark Farrell’s anti-camping measure off the ballot.  Opponents to Farrell’s measure, which I have argued  will actually enhance people’s ability to camp over current law, are holding the sales tax hostage as part of a deal to make Farrell withdraw his initiative.

Eight supervisors must approve the sales tax hike. John Avalos has made it clear that he won’t support it unless Farrell’s measure is removed from the ballot. With the progressive block of six (and moderate bloc of five) voting in lockstep on virtually all issues, the concern is that Avalos’ opposition will deny the eight votes needed.

Avalos can take put the sales tax at risk because he is termed out in November and his political career is likely over.  Preventing the sales tax from reaching the voters is far riskier for progressive supervisors with political futures. They will have to explain to voters why they stopped $150 million in annual funding from going to transportation and homeless services in order to deny voters the right to cast ballots on an issue.

Peskin has added to the mix by introducing a resolution barring supervisors from putting homeless policy measures on the ballot for one year. While critics have called this pledge a “gimmick,” it recognizes that the city’s newly created Department of Homelessness should be given at least a year to operate without Board meddling. Farrell’s measure is an example of such meddling. Farrell backed the Department’s creation, and should let it provide the leadership on homeless policy it was tasked to provide.

A large coalition coordinated by SPUR’s Gabriel Metcalf and Gail Gilman of the Community Housing Partnership is sending a letter to the Board urging that they ensure the $150 million sales tax gets on the ballot. I am among those signing the letter, and hope it convinces the Board to remember the human costs at stake.

I also hope the letter reminds progressives that they should not let the  failure of a Farrell deal stop them from voting to put the sales tax on the ballot. That reactive strategy is wrong. It allows Farrell to dictate what progressives are doing and does not serve the progressive interests benefiting from the proposed sales tax hike.

Undermining Small Business Assistance

Another deal involves Supervisor Peskin’s proposed ballot measure placing the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development under a new Housing Development Commission. It’s no secret that Peskin created this measure to pressure the Board of Realtors to drop two ballot initiatives they gathered signatures for impacting nonprofit housing (one measure eliminates affordable inclusionary housing for very low-income people, the other is a phony “competitive bidding” proposal that ignores existing city practices).

The deadline for a deal to get these measures off the ballot was July 11. And Peskin told Supervisor Cohen last week that this deadline passed without him ever negotiating directly with the Realtors; nor has not he tried to make a deal with them since.

Peskin and the nonprofit housers he is representing instead see their main pressure point as the mayor. Mayor Lee opposes the proposed Housing Development Commission, and Peskin and his allies want Lee to both oppose the realtors’ measures (he would do so regardless of any deal) and also raise money to defeat them (how much money is still being negotiated). If a deal can be struck,  the Commission language would be taken out of Peskin’s legislation with its poison pill language invalidating the realtors’ initiatives remaining (the language says that if the Peskin measure wins it invalidates competing measures on the same subject).

I’ve testified twice against putting OEWD’s Invest in Neighborhoods program under a Commission, and was joined by a broad array of Tenderloin nonprofit groups and businesses. I argued that turning small business economic assistance into a political football is wrong, but Peskin appears to see the very popularity of the Invest in Neighborhoods program as elevating its status as a bargaining trip.

This is an example of the art of the deal overtaking political realities. With the Realtors’ measures certain to be on the ballot, nonprofit housers should be moving to unify opposition instead of alienating the mayor, small businesses and nonprofit groups by messing with the city’s economic development activities.

Nonprofits lack the funding and political support to pass their Housing Development Commission measure. Including it on the ballot would actually increase chances of passing the Realtors initiatives.

For that reason I remain hopeful that the Commission language will be deleted, the city’s OEWD protected, and that a broad coalition emerges to  defeat the Realtors.

We could know the outcome of this deal any day now.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron.


Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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